Facts Formed, Lessons Learned

2009 was a banner year here at Casa Ramrod, assuming that the banner said “Mission Accomplished” in a font called “Clueless Irony.”  (Yes, I know.  It’s been done.)

Nevertheless, I think I learned a few things in 2009 that may serve me well in 2010, especially if I retain the backup option of hiding under the covers.  Here, then, are a few 2009 True Facts and the lessons I’ve taken from them:

True Facts:  In June, I was diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  SLL/CLL progresses slowly and is considered indolent.  So rather than start treatment, I’m engaged in “watchful waiting.”

Lessons Learned:  As I already suspected from my own personal habits, “indolent” is not a bad thing.  Barring meteor strikes or other accidents, then, I’ll probably live more-or-less normally for many more years.  I’ll just have to regard my body as if it were a suspiciously unattended package at the airport.

True Facts:  During both my endoscopy and colonoscopy, I was given a wonderful “twilight” anesthesia that made me forget the most uncomfortable and unpleasant parts of the procedures.  But I was given no “twilight” during my bone-marrow biopsy, so I remember every undignified second of it.  Afterward, however, I was given a snack.

Lessons Learned:  Drugs are good.  But so are cookies.

True Fact:  On the same day that a doctor first said the word “lymphoma” to me, I received an email telling me that the movie version of my second novel would begin filming in October.  This coincidence seems to indicate that God is a merry prankster.

Lesson Learned:  Not really a big fan of merry pranksters, here.

True Facts:  The movie did not begin filming in October.  Or November.  Or December.  This seems to indicate that Hollywood is a merry prankster as well.

Lesson Learned:  See above.

True Fact:  I have an amazing spouse who always has my back despite the fact that I’m a foul-tempered old crank who’s addicted to cookies.

Lesson Learned:  None.  I already knew that.

True Fact:  My friends aren’t half-bad, either.

Lesson Learned:  Suckers.

True Fact:  Throughout 2009, the first picture that popped up in a Google Images search for “Bradley Denton” was a photo of me kissing Steve Gould.

Lesson Learned:  Make one mistake, and you pay for it the rest of your life.

Changing All Those Changes

 Here They Played, and Still Play, Rock and Roll

At midday on Friday, June 19th, 1987, while en route to a convention in Minnesota, Barb and I stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa. I had just started writing my second novel, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and Clear Lake was a logical place to take some pictures and do a little research. It was the town where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson had played their last concert on February 2, 1959.

At the Clear Lake Public Library, a helpful librarian told me a story about Buddy’s glasses. It seems that someone (the county coroner?) from Mason City (the county seat) had taken the glasses from the site of the plane crash . . . and as far as the librarian knew, they were still locked up in a desk at the courthouse. Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, had even asked for them – and had been refused. The county, for some odd reason, thought they should hang on to them . . .

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Backyard Sex, Part Deux


We live in a semi-rural area. Well, mostly rural. We have houses and running water, but no streetlights, fireplugs, police officers, or Britney Spears sightings. (One good ol’ boy at the local hardware store actually swears that “Britney Spears” is something a spaniel does during a duck hunt.)

Another thing we don’t have is zoning restrictions. So even though we may look like a residential neighborhood from some angles, other angles will reveal that various folks have stocked their back yards with chickens, geese, sheep, goats, and donkeys. And they’re perfectly welcome to do so – ‘cause here along the Travis-Hays county line, a man’s home is not only his castle, but his Little Reata. (Just hit Netflix and rent “Giant.”)

Here at Casa Ramrod, all we have in the back yard are dogs. Or at least, that’s all we intend to have. In practice, at one time or another, we’ve also had squirrels, opossums, and armadillos (visually confirmed) as well as raccoons, bobcats, and skunks (otherwise confirmed). The occasional family of deer hops the fence. Plus, our veterinarian’s bulletin board sports a few too-curious-for-their-own-good doggie photos that provide direct evidence of porcupines in the vicinity.

But all of that’s not enough animal life for one of our nearest neighbors, who has gone the aforementioned chickens-geese-sheep-goats-donkeys route. He has even expanded his own Little Reata by fencing off some of the utility-easement alley behind our properties. All of which is cool with us, by the way. The more fur and feathers, the merrier. (Or at least the furrier and featherier.)

Our dogs Lucy, Linus, and Tillie were cool with it too . . .

. . . until the day the emus showed up.

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The Wedding of the Century

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you — Mr. Jesse Hawkins and Mrs. Rachael Hawkins.




They were married last Saturday afternoon in an outdoor amphitheatre at Brownwood State Park, to my delight and to the applause of approximately 45 friends and family.


This is the terrible loss that I suffered, mentioned in my previous post. I gave up my most beloved daughter – but gained both a wonderful son-in-law and a vast herd of cattle in payment.


More below the cut.


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The Internet Is For . . . Sociopaths

He's out there.

In my fifty years, I have encountered only one person whom I have deliberately, unequivocally, and publicly cut out of my life.

That person then completely (and blessedly) vanished from my personal radar for eighteen years.

Some of my fellow Brainiacs, and some of our visitors, will recall this individual as well – or will after I describe him. Thought he was gone, didn’t you?

Well, thanks to the Internet, he’s back. So this is the latest and greatest reason why I don’t like the Internet. (Oh, sure, I use it. Here I am using it right now. However, as I’ve noted before: I don’t like cars, but I know how to drive. And I don’t like guns, but I know how to shoot. Life in the modern world often requires unpleasant compromises.)

What was the deal with this guy? And why did you shun him so utterly? many of you are wondering.

I’ll attempt to explain.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (as quoted on Wikipedia – a dubious source, but since it’s on the g***amn Internet, an appropriate reference point), a person must display three out of the following seven criteria to be diagnosed with “antisocial personality disorder” (that is, to be considered what a layman such as myself would call a “sociopath”):

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;

2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;

3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;

4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;

6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;

7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

The only one of these characteristics that this guy didn’t clearly display (from my admittedly non-professional vantage point) was Number 4.

But as for the rest – you better believe it. Six out of seven.

Add in a pretty high level of insidious personal charm, and you’ve got Poison.

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Boy, Do I NOT Know How to Pick ‘Em

 Push-Button Transmission!  What's not to like?

About fifteen years ago, Maxwell House came out with a bottled “iced cappuccino” here in the States called Cappio. It was available in several flavors, including cinnamon, vanilla, and mocha . . . and man, I loved that stuff. Especially the mocha, which tasted as if coffee and cocoa had made sweet, sweet love to produce a God-Child who had descended to Earth for the sole purpose of making my poor tired brain happy again. World without End, Ah-men. Ahhhh-mennn.

It was moderately kinda sorta expensive, but it sure was tasty. Smooth, sweet, and a kick like a mule wearing velvet horseshoes. Hoo boy.

Then one day it went on sale. Everywhere. So I bought up a bunch, never thinking that maybe it was on sale for a Reason.

The Reason, of course, turned out to be that it had sold like crap at a stable-shovelers convention. So less than two years after introducing it, General Foods stopped making it for the U.S. market. All the stores put their stock on sale so they could clear the shelves for whatever came next.

The result: Once I knocked back my little stash, that was it. No more Soup for me.

A decade and a half later, all of the bottled iced coffee drinks on the U.S. market taste as if they’ve been filtered through a stevedore’s shorts. And they apparently sell like crazy despite being more costly than heroin. (Okay, maybe not the best heroin. But still – two bucks for a six-and-a-half ounce Doubleshot? I’d ask how those rapacious bastards sleep at night, except I’m pretty sure they don’t.)

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But A Few Hours Later, the Flying Monkeys Attacked

Now that I’ve returned to Central Texas after my and Barb’s annual Pilgrimage to the Old Country, I thought I’d write a long, convoluted post worthy of my reputation as a yammering psychopath.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve returned to Central Texas, Central Texas has also returned to me.  I have a truly outstanding case of cedar fever, and tonight I feel about as good as I did the last time I was worked over with a crowbar (which happens with greater frequency than you might imagine, considering how sweet I am).

As a result, this week’s post is of the same ilk as last week’s — that is, a photo from one of the high points of the Pilgrimage:

Hark the Herald Okies Sing

So.  Where did YOU spend Christmas?

Visiting Major Cities of the World*

Barb and I are continuing our world* tour this week . . . and so far, the only mystery is how a postcard can receive an Oklahoma City postmark when it was mailed from the post office in Prague:

Dobrý den!

Oh, well.  Here’s hoping for better luck in St. Louis:

Gateway to the West -- Well, West of Tulsa



*If by “World” you mean that long stretch between Austin and Kansas City.

Mysterious Postcard

I posted last week about an Ebay auction and low and behold, this week I received the following:

Mysterious Postcard

I have some vague idea who might have sent such a thing–it has a US stamp and an Oklahoma postmark. And so I deduce that it might be in Czech. The only words I know in Czech are…well, I don’t know any words in Czech. But I went to grad school, dammit, and I had a language requirement, and if that taught me anything, it taught me how to make a half-assed translation in a language I didn’t know. As best I can figure, the postcard reads:

I cannot resist. Muzete me this translate? “give me spout within beer.”

Much obliged!

And give my kind regards to the French Bean!*

I owe you a beer, Denton. Preferably at the Klášterní pivovar Strahov.

(Actually, it says ‘Give my regards to Bob’ but one translation software came back with this, and how could I not prefer ‘the French Bean?’)

In Praise of Foreign Gum


Barb returned from another trip to Japan last weekend, and she brought back something wondrous for me:

BlackBlack Chewing Gum.

Now, if you’re like me (and I know I am), you’ll be asking, “What’s so wondrous about BlackBlack Chewing Gum? Does it have a unique, delicious flavor? Does that flavor last a long, long time? Do the packages contain decoder rings that enable one to discover Jessica Alba’s phone number hidden within the text of her Wikipedia entry?”

The answer to all of the above is “No, who needs that stuff? If I want a unique, delicious flavor, I’ll eat a nectarine. [Rory: A nectarine is a kind of fruit.] If I want flavor that lasts a long, long time, I’ll consume a clove of garlic. And if I want Jessica Alba’s phone number, I’ll look for it in my kitchen trash, which is where I threw it after hearing that she’s having a baby with another man.”

“So what’s the attraction?” you’ll ask. “If BlackBlack’s flavor isn’t especially unique, delicious, or long-lasting, and it’s no help in stalking starlets, then why all the BlackBlack love?”

One word, my poor, deprived Brainiacs:

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I’ve just realized that 2007 marks the 25th anniversary of my first adult publication.

No, not that kind of “adult publication,” you pervs. (That came later.) I mean the first piece of my writing that was published after I turned 21.

Note that I didn’t say “professional” publication. Because I wasn’t paid.

Note also that I didn’t say “story” publication. Because it wasn’t a piece of fiction.

It was a recipe.

That’s right, a recipe. It appeared in 1982 in this little 80-page cookbook:

Malice's Restaurant

Malice’s Restaurant was the brainchild of the University of Kansas English Department’s then-secretaries, Jane Garrett and Barbara Paris . . . and such was their power over the mere professors and graduate students in their realm that they received contributions from just about everyone. Including yours truly.

My bit was a recipe I had developed during the first year Barb and I were married. See, we were students, and therefore Poor, which meant that most of our suppers featured Rice-a-Roni and not much else. But once in a while we were able to take turns cooking something more substantial . . . and fried chicken nights were mine.

So now, lo these many years later, I’m going to share that chicken recipe with my fellow Brainiacs.

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Midnight Rambler?

Neighborhood Watch 

So I’m in the back yard a few days ago, firing up my monthly Al Capone, when Neighbor calls to me from across the fence.

“YOU sure get up early,” Neighbor says.

I’m puzzled. It’s late afternoon. I have no idea why Neighbor is telling me, in a clear accusatory tone, that I sure get up early.

So I smoothly ask, “Huh?”

“YOU sure get up early,” Neighbor says again.

I drop the Al Capone to my side so as not to blow smoke in Neighbor’s face, and I move over to the fence.

“What do you mean?” I ask (thus smoothly expanding on my earlier theme of “Huh?”).

“I mean you’ve been getting up and going outside awfully early.”

I’m still puzzled. “Not that early. Barb and I walk the dogs down the road about 6:45 or so.”

Neighbor says, “No. You’ve been out between 5:00 and 5:30 several mornings in a row.”

This is not the case. So I explain to Neighbor that Barb gets up about 6:00 AM, or sometimes a few minutes earlier, and goes out to the end of the driveway to get the newspaper. So it’s Barb that Neighbor has been seeing in our driveway, although not quite as early as 5:00 or 5:30.

“No,” Neighbor says. “Not in your driveway. You’ve been walking between our houses.”

There’s about a 30-foot wide strip of grass between our houses, extending back from the street forty yards or so to our back-yard fences — where it dead-ends.

I’m beyond puzzled now. “Wait. You mean you’ve seen someone in that grassy area between our houses between 5:00 and 5:30 AM for several mornings?”

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I Got Your “Best Of” Right Here

  The Friendliest Little Bar in Texas

Every year, Austin’s alternative weekly, The Austin Chronicle, publishes a “Best of Austin” issue to highlight all the various wonders of the Violet Crown City. (Yes, Austin is known as the Violet Crown City. It’s also known as The Live Music Capital of the World, Waterloo, and Sodom-on-the-Colorado. But those are topics for future posts.) This year’s “Best Of” issue came out today.

The Chron’s extensive “Best Of” list is always entertaining, and it’s a great way to start conversations, arguments, and bar fights. This year’s edition is broken into nine categories (“Architecture & Lodging,” “Arts & Entertainment,” “Food & Drink,” etc.) and includes both “Critics’ Picks” and the results of a readers’ poll. And in addition to listing winners in standard subcategories such as “Best Hotel,” “Best Restaurant,” and “Best Bookstore,” the Chron also gives mad props to “Best Place to Find a Lover,” “Best Pay Phone Within 50 Miles,” “Best Moment of Zen That’s Not on ‘The Daily Show,’” “Best Way to Avoid Dysentery While Enjoying Bjork,” and “Best Creative Use of Three Small Trampolines.”

The only flaw with the Chron’s “Best of Austin” list is that, as comprehensive as it tries to be, it tends to give short shrift to us Austinites (Austinians? Austinoids?) who don’t live smack-dab in the middle of the city. So, to do my part to help out my brethren on the southern outskirts (and our many foreign visitors, some from as far away as Arkansas) here’s my list of the –

Best of Austin Between MoPac and I-35, But South of Slaughter Lane (In Other Words, Manchaca, More or Less, But Not Quite Down to Buda):

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1. Dawn in Space! * 2. Fakes in Space! * 3. Pirates in Space!

1. Dawn in Space!

Dawn in Space

Today, NASA’s Dawn probe to the asteroid belt was launched.  Dawn’s mission is ambitious:  Four years from now, it will place itself in orbit around Vesta . . . and then it will fly on to the dwarf planet Ceres and orbit that world as well (in 2015).

Read more about Dawn (and watch a video of the launch) here.

2. Fakes in Space!

Liar, liar, space pants on fire!

While Dawn’s mission is thrilling, it is a robotic mission.  No human beings will be going to Vesta or Ceres anytime soon.  (Unless there’s oil.)

But then, there are those who argue that human beings never could go to another world, and never have.

For example, it turns out that the Apollo moon landings were all faked as part of a massive government space-program hoax.

But it’s only now that we know the full extent of the fraud – and we have these guys to thank for the knowledge.

So that’s how they did it.

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Not the (Deliciously Fragrant) Droid You’re Looking For

 “No, I’m BRIAN of Nazareth!”

Is there anyone out there for whom Life isn’t a never-ending series of embarrassments and misunderstandings – and, especially, embarrassing misunderstandings?

If you’re like me (and I know I am), that sort of thing occurs every time you venture into the world that lies beyond the end of your driveway. This is why my dream home, which I shall build someday, will include thirty-foot-high stone walls, a gator-infested moat, and an automated shock-collar system that will zap me unconscious every time I attempt to leave.

This week, for example, I made the mistake of going out to my local hardware store, which I had been lulled into thinking was a safe haven. After all, it’s not one of those hulking Lowdown Home Despot warehouses, but a small, sleepy, cluttered joint about the size of my house.

In other words, going there is almost as good as staying home.

Usually. This time –

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